King County, Washington to Try New Envision Rating System for Infrastructure

March 13, 2014
Heathfield Pump Station. Photo Credit: King County, Washington.

Heathfield Pump Station in Bellevue will be upgraded as part of a wastewater project that will be tested under the Envision rating system.

King County invests hundreds of millions each year on major infrastructure for transportation and waste disposal. Incorporating sustainable development principles into these projects has long been a priority for county leadership. But until recently, sustainable development tools and green rating systems weren’t readily available for civil infrastructure projects.

The Envision rating system aims to change all that.

King County will be one of the first agencies in Washington to try out the new rating system on an upcoming pump station project in Bellevue. King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division will pilot Envision on its Sunset and Heathfield pump stations and force main upgrade project — a major retrofit of two pump stations in southeast Bellevue, as well as the pipe that conveys wastewater from those stations.

A different approach

Envision was created by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), a not-for-profit education and research organization founded by the American Public Works Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, and American Council of Engineering Companies in partnership with the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Envision provides a standardized framework that can be used to guide planning and design, resulting in more sustainable and resilient infrastructure. That framework is structured similarly to most other green systems. It contains a number of performance credits arranged within categories, uses a checklist to communicate overall project performance, and awards a certification level based on third-party verification (e.g., silver, gold, etc.).

Envision builds on the foundation of previous rating systems, but also does things a little differently. This is seen most clearly in the content of the Envision categories, subcategories and credits, which constitute a broader and deeper definition of sustainability than most of the other major rating systems.

Envision’s benefits

From the beginning, the King County project team wanted to push the envelope to successfully demonstrate how early integration of sustainability can result in a robust and resilient piece of infrastructure, benefiting both ratepayers and the environment. The final pump stations and force main project will be tested against a rigorous rating system while meeting the needs of operations and maintenance staff, staying within an optimized ecological footprint and delivering on-time and on-budget.

Envision’s “broader and deeper” conception of sustainable performance can help the project team realize their goal. But the true innovation is Envision’s support of existing practice. To select just two examples, credits within the “leadership” category award points for exceptional project management, collaboration and teamwork, and stakeholder involvement — are all elements of the project team’s existing approach. Credits within the “climate and risk” category recognize the work that King County is already doing to limit risk and maximize the resilience of their infrastructure in the face of flooding, increased heat and other anticipated impacts of a changing climate.

A forward-thinking sustainability strategy is fundamental to King County’s environmental ethic and commitment to financial stewardship. The Wastewater Treatment Division’s sustainability goals are already shaped by LEED as well as the county’s green building and sustainable development ordinance that went into effect in 2008. For projects like Sunset/Heathfield, Envision is another tool in this sustainability toolbox.

Adé Franklin is a capital project manager with the King County Wastewater Treatment Division. Justus Stewart is an associate with O’Brien & Co., and leads their sustainable infrastructure initiatives.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Journal of Commerce, and has been edited for length.

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